March 23, 2004

Interesting Finds

I love the token conservative of the NY Times, David Brooks. He's like Atatürk's Turkey in a sea of Islamic republics:
But the more interesting phenomenon limned in Chappell's book is this: [Martin Luther] King had a more accurate view of political realities than his more secular liberal allies because he could draw on biblical wisdom about human nature. Religion didn't just make civil rights leaders stronger — it made them smarter.

Whether you believe in God or not, the Bible and commentaries on the Bible can be read as instructions about what human beings are like and how they are likely to behave. Moreover, this biblical wisdom is deeper and more accurate than the wisdom offered by the secular social sciences, which often treat human beings as soulless utility-maximizers, or as members of this or that demographic group or class.

Whether the topic is welfare, education, the regulation of biotechnology or even the war on terrorism, biblical wisdom may offer something that secular thinking does not — not pat answers, but a way to think about things.

For example, it's been painful to watch thoroughly secularized Europeans try to grapple with Al Qaeda. The bombers declare, "You want life, and we want death"— a (fanatical) religious statement par excellence. But thoroughly secularized listeners lack the mental equipment to even begin to understand that statement. They struggle desperately to convert Al Qaeda into a political phenomenon: the bombers must be expressing some grievance. This is the path to permanent bewilderment.
From a Laura Miller column:
Classicism comes in two flavors, and while supporters of American foreign policy like to compare America to Athens, those with reservations turn to Rome....The leaders of the American Revolution courted the Roman comparison. George Washington staged a performance of Joseph Addison's play ''Cato'' for his officers at Valley Forge, presumably to inspire them with the austere tragedy of a statesman willing to sacrifice all for the republic. The 18th century was the Augustan age, in which the Stoic virtues of discipline and self-control -- qualities the Romans, in turn, admired in the Spartans -- were prized above the raucous squabbling of democracy in the Greek mode. By 1863, as Garry Wills writes in ''Lincoln at Gettysburg,'' Romanticism had replaced the Stoic ideal with the Greek Revival, and Athens was no longer disdained for being ''ruled by mobs'' and ''anarchical.'' The transformation has lasted and affected more than politics, as a reading of ''Cato'' shows. In the play, Cato's two sons compete for the hand of a young woman. She prefers the ''graceful tenderness'' of one over the ardent, fiery ''vehemence'' of the other, which she regards with ''a secret kind of horror''; her choice seems bizarre now, in a time when overpowering passion is prized above all in matters of the heart.

Everyone wants to be the Greeks -- democratic if disorderly, cultured if impulsive. Nobody wants to be the Romans, with their well-oiled war machine, their vaunted sobriety and their frank imperial ambitions. But even in books intent on characterizing contemporary America as either one, it's possible to find as many differences as similarities.
Thomas Hibbs on Schindler's List (perhaps a weakness of TPOTC was the depiction of the Roman soliders, who are also at "too great a remove" from the typical viewer.)
Some have objected that Oskar Schindler represents the banality of goodness, an ordinary businessman with little apparent interior life who manages to do the right thing and save many Polish Jews from the gas chambers...Yet the film succeeds at doing what historical art aims to do: educate our minds, inform our memories, and foster appropriate sympathy, revulsion, sorrow, and admiration. What is most instructive about Schindler is not just his ordinariness, but the way his entrepreneurial opportunism, his mundane desire for profit, and his willingness to use bribes and other illegal means of persuasion kept him from being swept up into the camp of German true believers and provided him with the skills and habits to engage in systematic deception of German officials.

The real weakness of Schindler's List is not in the character of Schindler but in that of Goeth, an unhinged psychopath whose intoxicated sadism puts him at too great a remove from the viewer, who is apt to come away identifying the evil of the Nazis with simple madness. In an illuminating suggestion, the philosopher Gillian Rose proposed that a certain conception of an "ethic of service," captured effectively in the film The Remains of the Day (1993), could implicate ordinary human beings in the Nazi system.
Jonah Goldberg on the CORNER:
The fact that Al Qaeda is calling for revenge for Yassin's killing demonstrates how wars cause everyone to choose sides. That's how wars work. Much like Qaeda's interest in American failure in Iraq, it was in evitable that the terrorist group most dedicated to destroying one democracy would would become a natural ally for the terrorist group dedicated to destroying us. This doesn't mean that there's active cooperation between the two organizations. But it does mean that al Qaeda understands that Hamas sympathizers are natural recruits to be al Qaeda sympathizers. Opponents of America's friendship to Israel will no doubt claim that this opportunistic joining of forces -- at least rhetorically -- could have been avoided if we took the position that Israel's fate is of no concern to us whatsoever. But if that doesn't fit Churchill's definition of appeasement -- i.e. feeding your friends to the alligator in the hope he'll feed you last -- I don't what does.

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